Meryl Davis and Charlie White are hanging up their competitive skates. In a partnership that spanned more than two decades, the American ice dance duo has won it all. Throughout their storied senior career, Davis and White claimed 24 gold medals in total, including two World and five consecutive Grand Prix Final titles and an Olympic crown.
Whether it was chasing a U.S., Olympic or World title, the most decorated ice dance team in American history never settled for anything less than being their best. Meryl Davis and Charlie White always knew, with utmost certainty, what was required to achieve their biggest goals and dreams.
In what Davis described as a “bittersweet” decision she and White will not return to the competitive arena in 2018 to defend the Olympic title they won in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. So, while it is possible they will be at next year’s Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, in some capacity, it will not be as competitors.
A few weeks after announcing their decision in March, Davis and White said it could not have been clearer in their minds, and neither had wavered for a minute. Unlike many other athletes, this is not a decision that is being forced upon them by health, injury or age, but one made simply by personal choice.
“We’ve had a little bit of time to come to terms with the finality of it, and it definitely feels like it was the right decision,” said White. “For us, it ultimately came down to motivation. Because we’ve been through it and because we know what it takes to be the best — to give yourself the opportunity to win the Olympics and to compete at the highest level — well, that’s just not where we’re at. What’s great about it is that we’re comfortable with it. To know we made this decision with clear heads, and that we’ve decided it is right for us is something that we’re not taking for granted. We feel very fortunate to be able to do that.”
Davis, 30, and White 29, had put off the making the decision for three years since skating off with the first Olympic ice dance title ever won by an American team. But with the 2018 Winter Games less than a year away, they knew the time had come to make a final determination about their future.
“Charlie and I often just thought about how, when the time came, we would know what would be the right thing to do,” Davis explained. “There was a little bit of back and forth over the years, but I think for a while we’ve been moving in the direction of not returning to competition in 2018 … and once we reached the year-out mark, we realized it was time to decide and start moving in the directions that we’ve chosen for ourselves. The beauty of it is that we were able to make the decision of our own accord — and we feel really good about it.”
When they claimed silver at the 2010 Winter Games, Davis and White knew their journey was nowhere near its conclusion — but four years later the mindset was completely different. “After Sochi, we felt like we had been on such a journey. Charlie and I had been competing together for 17 years and we never really looked back — we never really stopped,” Davis said.
“Other than after the Vancouver Games, we never thought ‘OK, this isn’t really what we want to be doing,’ because it was exactly where we wanted to be doing in those 17 years. So, after Sochi it was important to take that time to sort of listen to ourselves without any sort of plan moving forward.”
They also wanted to have no regrets, no moments of ‘what if’ somewhere down the road. “As many people will tell you, when you can physically accomplish something, you don’t want to look back and feel like you had missed an opportunity,” White said.
“So much of making sure that we made the right decision was not looking back. Giving ourselves the time away from the competitive aspect of the sport, gave us an opportunity to weigh and measure both what it was like to be away from it and remembering what it was like to be a part of it.
“It wasn’t easy and there were times when we went back and forth but it was very clear that when it came to motivation, we are excited at the prospect of finding new elements in our lives.”
When asked if they had ever seriously considered a comeback, White said that “maybe we joked about it a couple of times together. We definitely feel like we’ve grown as skaters and we have something to offer that maybe we didn’t before — which of course leads one down the road of ‘how big an impact would that have competitively? Would that change our perspective?’
“Ultimately, it came down to what we want to accomplish going forward. And having accomplished so many wonderful things in the competitive arena, we’re enjoying doing shows and other things off the ice to broaden ourselves.”
Both admitted the return of their longtime rivals — Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir — to the competitive world last season caused a pause for thought, but White said “it ultimately didn’t play a factor one way or another in terms of whether we were going to come back.”
However, seeing the Canadian duo return definitely struck a chord with Davis. “It forced me to consider the idea of whether or not we wanted to return to competition maybe a little bit more seriously,” she said. “Charlie and I had been competing against them since we were 12 or 13. But I was really comfortable making the decision based on my own feelings. Charlie and I feel really good about the path we’ve chosen to take, regardless of what other people are doing.”
White said that moving forward and feeling satisfied with their accomplishments was “something we are pleased with because not everyone wins a gold medal and says, ‘OK, you know what, I feel really comfortable with that. That’s what I wanted to accomplish.’ For us to feel real strongly about that is a real blessing.”
For White, that new path has meant more time to spend with his wife, Tanith at their home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as well as with family and friends. “As a competitive athlete, you’re forced to be selfish and I say that lovingly. For what it takes to be the best, you have to prepare yourself to practice every day and that requires a certain level of selfishness,” he said. “Shortly after the Olympics, I was able to marry Tanith and spend time with my family.
“For me, just being able to enjoy the aspect of being part of my community and being with my friends and my family without having the distraction of competition is something definitely worth noting, and ultimately is more important than a lot of the other awesome things we’ve been able to do.”
Davis, meanwhile, has developed an interest in becoming an entrepreneur. “Whether that’s being part of a company or starting my own company, it’s really interesting to me to have discussions with people who have taken different paths, and who define themselves as entrepreneurs,” she explained. “I’ve done a lot of things with different companies and spoken to different women who have sort of paved their own paths.”
Both plan to finish their undergraduate degrees at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Davis is currently taking two courses toward her anthropology degree. She has also dabbled in some commentary work and has speaking engagements and sponsor obligations to fulfill.
“Even now, I’d say we’re still on the road a good 75-80 percent of the time,” said Davis. “But Charlie and I feel incredibly fortunate to have that opportunity to continue pursuing what we love. Making a living and sharing that with people around the world … we’re pretty grateful to have that.”
Davis and White have also been active on the show circuit, performing and touring in Japan, Europe and in the United States, and hope to continue doing so in the years to come. “We love skating — it’s what drove us to be best in competition, but it also so much fun doing shows and exploring other aspects of it,” said White, who has also become involved in coaching and choreography at the Arctic Edge Arena in Canton, Michigan, their training base for so many years.
“I know for myself, figure skating initially was really a physical feat. It had much less to do with the artistic aspect — I wasn’t really that concerned with the storytelling … I just liked skating with speed, doing good edges and amazing lifts. As I matured, I really started to understand and fall in love with the more artistic aspects of skating.
“Just being able to branch out and experience that in the world of exhibition skating … it’s just a really great way to grow as a person, and, beyond the confines of competition, you have even more space to explore that area.”
When asked to reflect on the highlights of their careers, Davis and White first look toward the Olympic gold in 2014 and silver in 2010, and the two World titles they earned in 2011 and 2013.
But both consider the 2009 World Championships in Los Angeles — where they finished just off the podium, a scant .04 of a point behind Virtue and Moir — as both a turning point and a springboard for the major success that followed.
“For me, Worlds in L.A. was a pivotal moment,” said Davis. “It felt like it was such a huge step for us … it opened this door — there were so many other things for us to explore and possibilities to improve on the ice.
“After finishing the free dance at Worlds in 2009, I thought that our potential was even deeper than we had thought it was. That was a really beautiful, really exciting moment for us. We took that inspiration forward over the course of the next five years. It really changed my perspective on who we were as people and as skaters, athletes and performers. I felt like I really approached skating differently after that World Championships.”
White agreed. “Even though we were off the podium by such a slim margin … just being that close to getting a World medal, is what gave us the confidence to push ourselves and to expect that we could medal going into the 2010 Olympics.”
If the history making gold in Sochi does stand as their final competitive moment, Davis and White could not have scripted it any better. “For us, so much of the time between the 2010 and 2014 Olympics was spent crafting our mindset, our psyche and our training to prepare ourselves to win the Olympics,” White said.
“Coming away with a silver medal in 2010 was great — in the immediate moment of achieving that goal, of course you feel satisfied — but there’s really only one step to go from there and the motivation and the goal were clear.”
Davis said she and White “literally did everything we could to be at our best in the four years between Vancouver and Sochi. We felt like we had put ourselves out there over the course of those four years and really given everything that we had.
“If that was our last moment on competitive ice, then I think for us it is beautiful to come away with an Olympic gold medal, but having that feeling of pride for those years of effort, work and dedication as a team is the thing that means the most to us.”
2018 AND BEYOND
Davis and White understand the responsibility that comes with being an Olympic champion and it is one of the reasons they feel the pull to be in PyeongChang in 2018 in some capacity. “The Olympics are so invigorating. The energy in the arenas and the athletes … it’s amazing to be around,” said White. “As much as we want to stay a part of the figure skating world, we want to be a part of the Olympic world as well. So, in some capacity, we hope to find ourselves there.”
Davis echoed that sentiment. “The Olympic world, the Olympic family and the Olympic movement are something that Charlie and I both feel really passionate about. Not just skating and not just our own careers, but what it means to represent your country in that way. If we have a chance to participate in 2018, we would love to do that.”
(Originally published in the IFS May/June 2017 issue)